Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

A Summer Salad with Grilled Halloumi

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Halloumi is an interesting cheese that hails from Greece, or Cypress, more specifically. It has a unique, almost rubbery-dense texture, and a salty flavor. I sometimes wonder why I enjoy it!

My favorite cheeses are by far softer cheeses, especially Époisses, Reblochon, Raclette, Saint Felicien, and Brie, which all are French and cow’s milk-based.

But being an equal opportunity cheese lover, I embrace all cheeses, no matter the hardness and the milk source. My only exception is Casu Marzu, a cheese I refused to eat when in Corsica. Funny story if you’re not squeamish.

Haloumi was originally made from goat and sheep milk, but the only one I can find locally is made with cows’ milk. The cheese is unique in that it has a high melting point, so it can be grilled or even fried, without the cheese melting.

Halloumi has many different names, including grilling cheese, bread cheese, Leipäjuusto, and Finish Squeaky cheese. No matter the name, they are all a semi-hard, unripened brined cheeses.

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When making salads during the summer months, my go-to cheese is feta. It’s flavorful and goes so well with vegetables and vinaigrettes.

But adding Halloumi to a salad goes beyond crumbling some cheese on top of a salad. It’s so meaty in texture that it’s almost like a meat substitute.

For today’s salad, I used simple salad ingredients, grilled Halloumi, and a parsley vinaigrette.

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I began by adding some mixed greens, grated carrots, quartered tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to two plates. There were some sliced sweet chile peppers saved for serving time.

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The parsley vinaigrette was made with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, salt, and as much flat-leafed parsley that I could shove into the little blender!

To prepare the cheese, I heated a grill over high heat, brushed with a small amount of olive oil. I sliced the 10 ounce slab of cheese horizontally, then in to 12 pieces. I placed the slices of cheese in the hot grill, and as soon as they warmed and had grill stripes, I placed the slices on the salads.

I topped the salads with the chile pepper slices and served the salads while the cheese was still warm.

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The parsley vinaigrette added freshness to the salad, without overpowering the mild-flavored cheese.

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It’s interesting how firm the cheese remains, even when warm. You definitely need a knife if you serve the Halloumi cheese in strips or slices.

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If you’ve never experienced Halloumi, or bread cheese, I highly suggest giving it a try. It will never replace a good Brie, but it’s not supposed to!

Strawberry Salad

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As I mentioned in my strawberry vinegar post, a green salad topped with fresh strawberries is extraordinary, but only in the springtime when it’s strawberry season. Any other time of year it just doesn’t seem right to me. A green salad with strawberries is also very pretty.

It was because of strawberry-topped salads that I was inspired to make a strawberry vinegar. I thought the layered effect of the strawberry-infused balsamic vinegar, along with the ripened strawberries would be a nice complement to greens.

For some crunch, you can add toasted walnuts or pecans, like I did, and crumbled bleu cheese or feta for extra deliciousness. Today I chose feta. I also included avocado slices for protein, plus a few radish slices for even more color. But other than that, I kept the salad simple in order for the ingredients to shine.
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If you don’t have a strawberry-infused vinegar, but want to make the salad, I’d keep the dressing simple. No strong-flavored dressings, just oil and vinegar. But you have choices there as well. You can use a good olive oil, like I did, or even a nut oil, like hazelnut or walnut. These oils are not only for autumnal salads because their flavors are mild. Even an orange-infused oil would be good in this salad, since it’s also mild. Vinegar-wise, I’d use a light-flavored vinegar, like a red wine or apple cider variety.

After one week of the fresh strawberries infusing white balsamic vinegar, it was time to decant. I tasted the vinegar first to make sure the flavor was right, and indeed it was. And just like the strawberry vodka I made last strawberry season, the color of the strawberries drained into the vinegar, so it’s really a lovely vinegar to use as well.

If the strawberries hadn’t faded in color so much, I would have used them in a chutney, but they just weren’t pretty enough, as you can see in the above left photograph.


For the salad, I used a butter lettuce – the kind that you can buy with the roots attached. I have some lettuce growing outside, but just not enough yet, thanks to our extended winter. I added the avocado, sliced strawberries, toasted pecans, and then sprinkled the feta on top.

Then I simply drizzled olive oil and the strawberry vinegar on top.


Plus a sprinkle of coarse salt.

You can always add black pepper as well.

Verdict: Fabulous! I will definitely keep making strawberry-infused vinegar and use it on my spring and summer salads. I can imagine it on grilled vegetables as well!

Pom Cider Vin

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I happened to have some pomegranate juice left over in my refrigerator from making festive cocktails in December, as well as some apple cider that I’d used for hot buttered apple cider over the holidays, so I had an idea. No, not more drinks, but instead – a flavorful and pretty vinaigrette.

If you read my fresh pear vinaigrette post, you know I like to make my own vinaigrettes. To me, there’s no need to buy them. Ever!

At home you can control the ingredients, and make the vinaigrettes customized to your liking. And the list of possibilities are endless.

So with the leftover juice and cider, I created this vinaigrette. Some people prefer a more oily vinaigrette than I do; I like the flavor of the vinegar, so I like a 50-50 ratio of oil to juice and vinegar. It’s a personal choice.

But this recipe is a place to start, if you’ve never made a vinaigrette from scratch.

Pomegranate Apple Cider Vinegar

1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup apple cider
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Firstly, place the pomegranate juice and apple cider in a small pot. Begin the reduction process. Which means do not leave the kitchen for a good hour. It’s a slow procedure, but an important one.
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Towards the end you will have created a pomegranate cider syrup.

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While the syrup is still warm, pour it in to a heat-proof jar and let it cool for a little bit.
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Add the red wine vinegar. I’m using approximately an equal volume as the syrup.
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Then add the olive oil. I’m adding approximately an equal volume as the syrup and vinegar mixture.
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Add the salt, then close the jar and give the dressing a good shake.
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If you don’t like the brownish color of the dressing, omit the apple cider and stick with pomegranate and cranberry juices only.

The slight fruitiness of this vinaigrette pairs beautiful with all kinds of salad ingredients.
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Today I prepared a green salad with beets, orange slices, garbanzo beans, goat cheese, and pine nuts. I kept this salad light, but grilled chicken or salmon could easily have been added; both would also compliment the dressing.
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Because of the sweetness of the dressing, it would also be good on spicy greens like arugula, plus the addition of fresh pears or apples.

Get creative with these dressings. You can use just about anything that you have leftover – even champagne – for a wonderful and unique vinaigrette. I very often use leftover beet juice as well, as I did here, using a combination of the beet juice and apple juice for a little sweetness. Beet juice adds a wonderful earthiness that pairs with carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, and many other salad ingredients as well.

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note: Pomegranate and cranberry juices both make red vinaigrettes if you use the juices by themselves, without the addition of apple cider. So they’re really pretty to serve over the Christmas holiday season, or even for a special Valentine’s meal! !